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Garden Checklist: Watch for wilt but don’t overwater

Be kind to your vegetables. Watch for wilt. We’re all trying to save water, but keep an eye on tomatoes during hot weather. They can wilt easily when the temperature hits triple digits.

But is that wilt from lack of water or just normal? Reader L.L. Dirrim, a volunteer urban forester with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, reminds us that many tomatoes – especially potato-leaf heirloom varieties –and other large-leaf vegetables often wilt in the afternoon.

“They will wilt every day with or without water,” Dirrim said. “It’s what they do normally.”

Check the ground for moisture before turning on the hose. She passes on this additional drought-related advice from the National Gardening Association:

“Water only when your plants need it. Tomatoes like moisture, but overwatering is harmful. You not only waste water, but soggy soil will prevent the roots from getting the air they need. If your plants look a little wilted on a hot summer afternoon, that’s normal. They’ll perk up overnight. If plants are wilted in the morning, don’t wait – water them! A thorough soaking every four to five days on light, sandy soils and every seven to 10 days on heavy soils is a good general guide for irrigating (plants in the ground).”

•  To help that water soak into the ground, construct a soil ring around each plant. Mulch also keeps moisture in the soil longer.

•  Give vegetable plants a boost with phosphate-rich fertilizer to help fruiting. Always water before feeding.

•  Keep picking squash, eggplants and peppers to encourage plants to bear more.

•  Want more summer veggies? It’s not too late to plant green beans, pumpkins and squash. Keep the soil moist so the seeds will sprout, and keep them watered.

•  Get started on the fall vegetable garden. Plant seeds for beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, head lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas and turnips.

•  Plant lettuce and spinach in flats in partial shade, then transplant to sunnier spots in the garden for fall salads.

•  Start asters, salvias and violas indoors for fall transplanting.

• Watch out for voracious hornworms and caterpillars in the vegetable garden. Hand-pick them off plants in early morning or late afternoon.

Debbie Arrington